Get Ready for the Culture Clash – Part 2

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Jan 30, 2006
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By Terry J. Soto, President & CEO, About Marketing Solutions, Inc.

(www.aboutmarketingsolutions.com)


Consider that you can train employees of various cultural backgrounds on policies, procedures and corporate culture, but how that message is ultimately communicated and received can and does vary dramatically. Anthropologists Kevin Avruch and Peter Black explain the importance of culture this way: …One’s own culture provides the “lens” through which we view the world; the “logic”… by which we order it; the “grammar” … by which it makes sense.


In other words, culture is central to what we see in our employees’ behavior, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves in our communications with them.


We continue with the six fundamental patterns of Cultural Differences that can affect development and motivation of a multicultural workforce. (See
part 1 in this series
.)


4. Different Decision-Making Styles

The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. For example, in the U.S., decisions are frequently delegated — that is, an official assigns responsibility for a particular matter to a subordinate. In many Southern European and Latin American countries, there is a strong value placed on holding decision-making responsibilities oneself. When decisions are made by groups of people, majority rule is a common approach in the U.S.; in Japan consensus is the preferred mode. Be aware that individuals’ expectations about their own roles in shaping a decision may be influenced by their cultural frame of reference.


5. Different Attitudes Toward Disclosure

In some cultures, it is not appropriate to be frank about emotions, about the reasons behind a conflict or a misunderstanding, or about personal information. Keep this in mind when you are in a dialogue or when you are working with others. When you are dealing with a conflict, be mindful that people may differ in what they feel comfortable revealing. Questions that may seem natural to you — What was the conflict about? What was your role in the conflict? What was the sequence of events? — may seem intrusive to others.


6. Different Approaches to Knowing

Notable differences occur among cultural groups when it comes to the ways people come to know things. European cultures tend to consider information acquired through cognitive means, such as counting and measuring, more valid than other ways of coming to know things. Compare that to African cultures’ preference for affective ways of knowing, including symbolic imagery and rhythm. Asian cultures tend to emphasize the validity of knowledge gained through striving toward transcendence. (Nichols, 1976) Recent popular works demonstrate that our own society is paying more attention to previously overlooked ways of knowing.


Anthropologists Avruch and Black have noted that, when faced by an interaction that we do not understand, people tend to interpret the others involved as “abnormal,” “weird,” or “wrong.” (Avruch and Black, 1993) DuPraw and Axner propose that this tendency, if indulged, gives rise on the individual level to prejudice. If this propensity is either consciously or unconsciously integrated into organizational structures, then prejudice takes root in our institutions — in the structures, laws, policies, and procedures that shape our lives. Consequently, it is vital that we learn to control the human tendency to translate “different from me” into “less than me.”


Moderator’s Comment: Which diversity issue covered in this two-part series is most challenging to business today and why? What rewards are their or companies
that meet the challenge as you see it?

Terry J. Soto – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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10 Comments on "Get Ready for the Culture Clash – Part 2"


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Jeff Weitzman
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Jeff Weitzman
15 years 1 month ago

I think it is important to distinguish between cultural differences and value differences. Cultural differences are more easily taught, because they don’t necessarily conflict with values. The examples given above about how aspects of business are conducted are not ethical issues. While I think there are clear differences between differences of culture and similar issues without roots in culture, I agree with David that sometimes the resolution in either case is a matter of education and communication. Just as people learn the ropes and politics of a new workplace, so too can those from other cultures learn what is “normal.” It may always feel a little odd, but it can be done.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Different issues will be important for different cultural groups. The biggest issue is being careful to understand that cultural differences still exist even when people speak English, dress in a western style, and adopt some business practices. That does not mean that underlying values change. If the underlying values don’t change, decision making, employee relations, and communication do NOT function the same way. Differences become more pronounced in stressful situations. Values determine how people see the world, how they value people or decisions or criteria, how they make decisions, and how they communicate. Values are formed by the time people are about 7-10 and don’t change much unless there is some type of life crisis. Different value structures can be masked while adopting the communication and decision making styles of another culture, but those values still form the core of how that person views the world and the differences will show themselves.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

I’m confused. All those diversity issues are the same problems you have in non-diverse situations as well. I wonder just how many high-foreheaded HR VPs will want to set up mandatory week long seminars on these subjects only to have their employees forget about everything the following week?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 1 month ago
If we buy into the provided concepts of anthropologists Avruch and Black, how can we NOT consider individuals with this type of difference as “less than me?” Peaceful coexistence, anyone? A great deal of space in RetailWire is regularly devoted to the concept of company cultures, and rightfully so. Usually this involves a discussion of the prevailing unwritten behavioral rules that mold, shape, and guide the way a company operates. At Enron, for example, it was honorable to lie. (Does that make Enron “different from me” or “less than me?”) Companies should expect employees to adopt their corporate culture or find employment elsewhere. However, most employees discover their employer’s culture over a period of time in a trial-and-error, hit-and-miss, observe-and-comply fashion. The greatest rewards accrue to the companies that provide, in print, their cultural expectations and then correct those who don’t comply while rewarding those who do. In other words, if you consider it honorable to lie, do so at home and in your personal life. But while at work, honesty is the best policy.… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Although the authors point out some very good observations, they seem to be forgetting that prejudice is based upon being different, and so is diversity. Difference is a many-sided coin, despite the label we wish to impose upon it. The key to managing difference is not to let it get to prejudice, but instead to embrace it as a shared diversity, with the wealth of perspectives and experiences it brings. Managing diversity, and the changes it requires in the workplace necessitates open communication, sharing and preparation. Successful diversity management embraces teams, collaboration, dynamics and conflict resolution in the workplace through its encouragement of change and diverse cultures. Successful businesses in America have long recognized that embracing diversity management is as basic as recognizing people for their business attributes not their cultural background.

David Zahn
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Communication is the underlying foundation here. Without that, the other things listed in the survey are allowed to fester and cause people to make assumptions about “others.” By openly communicating (which does not mean PUBLICALLY communicating in all instances), much of the confusion about expectations, decision-making, etc. can be put into a context that permits two parties to resolve their misunderstandings about each other.

Here in the Northeast of the U.S., one of the clashes of cultures that gets played out frequently is when a “western-educated” teacher interacts with a child of Hispanic origin, the student will often not directly look directly at the teacher (to look at the elder or authority is to be defiant in some cultures), and the teacher, unfamiliar with this, will assume the child is not listening or actively engaged. And so, they each are confused by the other’s behaviors and form opinions based on their perceptions that in many ways are polar opposites of what was intended.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

I’d say the most critical question cuts across the issues raised: how do you know how acculturated an individual really is? Culture is an evolutionary rather than static process. It’s created and adjusted to all of the time. So it isn’t just the broad cultural strokes that are important, it’s the nuances, and frankly we haven’t done such a hot job understanding the differences between individuals belonging to the same general culture. Not only are not all “Hispanics” culturally the same, neither are all Mexicans in Mexico. Broad generalizations tend to reinforce racial prejudice, not eliminate it.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 1 month ago
I would like to turn once again to scientific data. In the last 40 years, our firm has studied the cultural characteristics, behavior patterns, and Fundamental Information Processes of over 1000 organizations all over the globe. The total number of persons that we have gathered data on is over 10,000. One of the most interesting findings we have made is that when dealing with Low-Intensity Information (information that is low-discomfort and low-importance, high-discomfort and low-importance, or low-discomfort and high-importance), there are vast differences in how people behave — all the cultural nuances that this topic is referring to. But note this: when dealing with High-Intensity Information (high-discomfort and high-importance), we found that literally 100% of the persons in our study, 100 PERCENT, revert to the same behavior patterns as each other. In the last 40 years, we have not found a single exception. That is astonishing! This suggests extremely strongly that in low-intensity situations, there are hundreds and maybe thousands of cultures. But in high-intensity situations, there appears to be ONLY ONE CULTURE ON THE… Read more »
Terry Soto
Guest
Terry Soto
15 years 1 month ago
Race, I’m fascinated by the findings of your study/work and would like to hear the rest if you’ll share. I have no doubt, and as you have seen and as many have shared, that there are dozens of large companies which embrace diversity, but what does that mean in practice? Are these “espoused” values that are truly understood and practiced employees or do they just read nicely on annual reports and employee training manuals? My intent for this article was not to suggest that corporate America doesn’t embrace diversity in its own ways, it was to make us, the people, not the companies, recognize that a diverse workforce with different cultural and values will at times represent a management challenge and so, when those instances arise, do we know where they are rooted? Do we know how to handle them? It was to bring to light that culturally diverse employees seldom intend to be different, they just are – it is not an affront, it is not disrespect or indifference, but it does drive behavior… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Within a group, diversity occurs from person to person. So it pays to communicate appropriately, regardless of the cultural norms. East Indians are no more all alike than all New Yorkers are the same. It helps to be aware of cultural differences, but it doesn’t mean cultural differences should always govern. Michael Banks’ question is terrific, since it’s an issue that’s not easy to handle. It would be difficult to handle even if ethnic issues weren’t involved, since food odors haven’t got universal appeal even when everyone is from the same background.

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